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Counterproductive Employee Recognition Programs: What Not to Do

written by: Vikas Vij•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 3/14/2011

Looking to develop a good program to motivate your workforce? Be wary of counterproductive employee recognition programs that can result in less motivation all around than actual motivation.

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    Rewards as a Tool of Employee Motivation

    Employee Motivation Recognizing and rewarding employees for their efforts and achievements is crucial to maintaining the motivation levels within the organization. However, any such reward and recognition programs are a double-edged sword, which must be handled with care. Counterproductive employee recognition programs can result in more harm than good for the motivation of the workforce. Top management as well as the HR department should manage such programs with objectivity and sensitivity to ensure they serve the desired purpose effectively.

    Photo Credit: soho13

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    Don't Indulge in Favoritism

    Knowingly or unknowingly, managers may fall into the trap of giving undue recognition to an employee who may be a personal favorite. This can lead to decreased motivation of other employees who believe they are more deserving compared to the employee who received the reward. Therefore, the managers must take utmost care to ensure that their personal choices and emotions do not cloud their objectivity in such situations. Fairness and equity must be an integral part of all employee recognition initiatives otherwise they will fail to serve the purpose.

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    Don't Publicly Discourage Weaker Employees

    Rewards and recognition for the exceptional performers must not come at the cost of those who lag behind. Such motivational tools require sensitivity, and a skillful manager can achieve the best results from such tools without causing any damage on the other side. The employees who fail to perform up to the mark should be addressed in private, and given a chance to improve their performance. If necessary, they should be re-trained or posted in other departments where they might be able to perform to the best of their ability.

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    Don't Highlight Individuals When it is a Team Effort

    There are situations where the entire team is responsible for achieving good results. In such cases, the entire team should be recognized or rewarded in order to maintain the team spirit and continued high performance of the group. Counterproductive employee recognition programs tend to focus too much on selected individuals even where it is the entire team that deserves to be rewarded. This can dishearten the team or create ill will in the group that was otherwise functioning very successfully.

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    Don't Use an Inconsistent Approach to Rewards

    It is very important to have a clear and unambiguous written policy in place regarding the system of awards and recognitions of employees. This helps to ensure that consistency is maintained at all times, and there is little or no room for personal biases or other considerations to influence the decisions. A written policy helps to maintain objectivity and a scientific process of identifying or selecting deserving employees for rewards.

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    Devise a Comprehensive Performance Appraisal System

    Performance can be a very subjective issue in many job roles and situations. Therefore, it can be difficult to appraise the performance of each individual employee accurately and fairly, unless there is a scientific performance appraisal system in place. The appraisal system should be comprehensive and take multiple aspects and factors into consideration. This helps to ensure that the recognitions are given out in a most fair and just manner, and create a positive environment of employee motivation within the organization.

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    Harvard Business School, "Why your Employees are Losing Motivation" (2006) retrieved at:

Ins and Outs of Employee Recognition Programs

In this series of articles, we explore how to develop an employee recognition program that really works. Get great ideas and advice – and also learn what to avoid.
  1. Understanding the Pros and Cons of Employee Recognition Programs
  2. Recognize Employees With These 10 Creative Ideas
  3. A Simple Letter Goes a Long Way: Employee Recognition Tips
  4. Counterproductive Employee Recognition Programs: What Not to Do
  5. Employee Recognition and Reward Ideas That Won't Break Your Budget